Tutoring Introverted Students

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Tutoring Introverted Students

Common misconceptions about the personality trait and how to create an effective learning environment for your introverted students.

All personalities are different and, given the many students a tutor will come across throughout their career, it’s important to understand how to shape the learning environment accordingly. There are a lot of misconceptions about introverts who, by some accounts, comprise about one-third of the population and possibly up to half. To facilitate student success, it’s imperative for tutors to recognize introversion and tailor sessions accordingly. Read on to learn more about what introversion is, the common misconceptions about it, and how tutors can most effectively work with students of this personality type.

Introversion vs. extraversion

When it comes to personality types, you’ve probably heard of introversion and extraversion. These two traits are considered to exist on a single spectrum, with unique personalities falling anywhere along the range.

Estimates put extroverted individuals at around two-thirds of the population. Extroverts are characterized mainly as individuals who receive gratification from external sources, often leading them to seek out others and thus behave in a generally outgoing and social manner. Extroverts on the high end of the spectrum are often seen as gregarious, talkative, bubbly, and frequently seeking out group socialization and activities.

By contrast, introverts generally derive gratification from within. Their energy is gained through more internal means, such as self-reflection and observing instead of engaging and socializing. Researchers have found differences in brain chemistry between extroverts and introverts, with the latter personality type having a more reactive and stimulated nervous system. Experts agree this is one of the main factors contributing to introverted people seeking less stimulating environments and not feeling as fulfilled from external stimuli.

One of the most prevalent misconceptions about introverts is that they are shy people. It’s imperative to understand that introversion is not shyness. While it is certainly possible for introverts to be shy, the two are not mutually necessary -- in fact, even extroverts can be shy. Louis Schmidt, director of McMaster University’s Child Emotion Laboratory explains that introversion and shyness “get confused because they both are related to socializing -- but lack of interest in socializing is very clearly not the same as fearing it” (source). He further explains by highlighting the difference between motivation and behavior. Introverts lack the motive to socialize whereas shy individuals experience tense and uncomfortable behavior in social situations.

Identifying introversion in students

How can you tell if a student is introverted or shy? There are a handful of indicators that will help you determine this:

Indicators of introversion:

  • Displays a strong sense of reflectiveness when working, enjoying thoughtful activities that allow for introspection

  • Prefers to work independently and, when with a lot of social interaction, tends to feel drained, especially when in groups

  • Displays strong listening and concentration skills

  • Favors extensive immersion in a few topics versus lightly exploring a range of many topics

  • Often prefers to observe versus lead the charge with regards to conversation, although when very familiar with someone, conversations are frequently engaging and deep

Indicators of shyness:

  • Fears being asked to speak up, especially in a public setting, feeling worried about negative judgments from others

  • Displays signals of low confidence and self-esteem, such as thinking they cannot complete tasks or being apprehensive to ask for help

  • Has trouble initiating conversation and sustaining discussion

  • Is anxious about overstimulation and avoids situations where rejection or humiliation might be possible

Tutoring introverted students

Once you’ve identified that your student is introverted, it’s important to consider whether your tutoring style is conducive to this type of personality. Here are five ways to adjust your approach to help support growth and maximize your student’s success:

  1. Utilize online resources: If you’ve only recently started working with an introverted student and haven’t yet developed a strong relationship, you may experience difficulty in evoking discussion or conversation. If this is the case, shift participation online. Try assigning tutoring homework that allows the student to reflect and send you answers via email or in a shared document. Recent research has suggested that introverted students who are reluctant to participate have a much easier time doing so virtually as it removes some of the in-your-face interaction.

  2. Incorporate quiet time: Allow for brief periods where the emphasis is on the student’s thoughtfulness and introspection. Some examples include reading book passages and discussing them after, or foreign language tutors setting up time to watch foreign films during sessions. Administering short practice quizzes can even be a step in the right direction as your student will be able to get some thinking time from it. Make sure your entire session isn’t solely based on conversation-heavy activities.

  3. Provide options: As people who consider and contemplate before taking action, introverts prefer to have choices when it comes to completing tasks. Instead of creating a rigid lesson plan, map a course that provides alternatives that you leave up to the student. If you always meet in a specific location or at a certain time, try asking them if they want to do something different for the following week. This will allow them to choose the right amount of stimulation and a more ideal environment instead of feeling obligated to a certain situation.

  4. Plan extra time to cover material: Introverted students spend more time reflecting and processing than those who are extroverted because they contemplate information deeply and thoroughly. Going slowly and allowing for extra time on material is key to ensuring your student is able to process the information as needed. Alternatively, allowing your student to help determine the schedule can also be an effective tool.

  5. Make things interesting: Susan Cain, author of the renowned novel “Quiet: The Power Of Introverts In A World That Can’t Stop Talking” and founder of the Quiet Revolution, explains that passion can be key for introverts. When you’re passionate about the subject or style of lesson, this biochemically taps “into your body's behavioral activation system” and “overcomes the body's behavioral inhibition system,” --the system that tells your body to stop, slow down.

Understanding personality types and how they differ is essential to working effectively with your students. Whether the students you’re working with are introverted, extroverted, or somewhere in between, you’ll notice a significant improvement in the success of your tutoring sessions when your lessons align with your student’s learning style. Introverted students are exceptional listeners and deep thinkers and, by putting the above tips into practice, you’ll be creating an environment that will better support their success.


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